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Motivating Your Practice to Communicate Effectively Starts From Within
By Jim Higgins
Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach in Lehi, UT.
For years, the healthcare industry has been undergoing a dramatic shift in the way providers communicate with their patients. Modern patients demand timely, effective communication from their practices. If you don’t provide it — they leave. But somewhere in the rush to improve patient communication, internal office communication has fallen by the wayside.
Intra-office communication is the glue that holds a practice together. Poor collaboration and communication within the office leads to mistakes. Whether this is double-booking a last minute appointment, multiple staff members contacting a patient for the same info, or letting a patient walk out the door without scheduling their follow-up visit, these mistakes can be stressful for your staff and may make your patients feel like your practice is disorganized.
Disorganization and poor communication contribute to an unhappy staff. One study found that the top three reasons people don’t like their jobs were all related to communication (lack of direction from management, poor communication in general, constant change that is not well communicated). Motivating your staff to improve internal communication is a multi-pronged process.
Start by making training a focus of your practice. Communication does not come naturally to everyone. Each of your employees will have different backgrounds and different abilities. They may all communicate slightly differently. But cohesive communication is critical to the success of your practice. Studies show that we spend between 70-80 percent of our day in some form of communication. This number is likely even higher in the healthcare industry. Strong communication is really the backbone of a strong team. Scheduling required training sessions on a regular basis where your entire staff can be taught how to ask clarifying questions and practice active listening skills is crucial. This will not only help as they communicate with one another, but as they interact with patients as well.
It is crucial that you practice what you preach. It’s not going to be enough to simply tell your employees about the importance of communication; you’ve got to show them. Healthy, open communication should be a fundamental part of your practice’s culture. And it starts with you. This may mean that upper staff members (including you!) need to receive extra training in communication methods. Then, in every interaction with staff members, model the type of communication you expect from them.
At least yearly, use anonymous internal surveys to allow a way for employees to freely share concerns they have about how things are running. Surveys are a great way to open the floodgates of communication that some employees may not feel comfortable sharing in person. Best practices for internal surveys include being digital, easy to understand, and short enough to complete within just a few minutes. There are a variety of survey tools you can use, including free options like Survey Monkey. The key is to make sure that employees feel comfortable that their responses will be anonymous. In order to get high participation levels, make sure employees recognize the benefit of filling it out. If employees see that changes are made based on survey results, they are much more likely to participate.
Make sure you meet regularly. Practices are busy. Crazy busy. It can be easy for everyone to just move directly to their regular area in the practice, address their duties, and never efficiently communicate with one another. Regular meetings provide the opportunity for additional collaboration among your staff. These meetings do not need to be extremely long or formal to be effective. One of the most successful ways to do this is to provide lunch for your staff once a month to sit, eat, and share ideas with one another.
Finally, find ways to use technology to fill any communication gaps. It’s important to find a messaging tool to improve communication between official meetings. At any given time, your staff members maybe be spread throughout the practice. Giving office staff the ability to communicate with each other, either through group messaging in a chat room or direct messages to a specific team member, can help your team circulate information quickly without ever leaving their desks. The average practice staff spends over an hour every day just trying to track down coworkers and find important information, adding up to over 20 hours each month spent just trying to communicate with each other. With a tool that allows them to quickly message each other and share information, that time can be better used to interact with the patients in the office.
Effective internal communication is important for every single practice. No exceptions. Effective communication boosts employee morale, reduces mistakes, and improves processes. The best communication starts with the practitioner and spreads to each member of the practice. As meaningful communication becomes the culture of your practice, your patients will feel the benefits, too.
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